The Pines Residents, Judy and Richard Ashley, Celebrate 40 Years as Chelsea Hospital Volunteers

 “We said we would try it,” says Judy Ashley of their initial experience volunteering at Chelsea Hospital back in the ‘80s. “We never planned to volunteer as long as we did!” Recently, Judy and Richard Ashley, residents of The Pines, were honored for 40 years of dedicated volunteer service at Chelsea Hospital (Trinity Health and University of Michigan Health). 

Judy was a switchboard operator at the hospital, and Richard worked 33 years for the Post Office throughout Washtenaw County. Judy Ashley’s grandparents were cared for at Chelsea Hospital in the 1980s. Because of the quality of care they received, Judy and her husband, Richard, wanted to find a way to give back and began volunteering at the hospital.

“Our first volunteer experience was with a 5K run,” says Judy. Later, Judy and Richard became involved with the hospital’s Ambassador Program and manned booths at the Chelsea Fair, the Dexter Daze Festival, and other events in the area to spread the word about the hospital. Richard assisted with the information desk at night, and Judy helped with the gift shop. “We’ve done almost anything they ever asked,” Judy says.

One of Richard’s fondest memories is of a woman visiting her mother one night at the hospital. Her mother was failing, and the woman was crying. She had her young daughter with her, so Richard offered to sit with the little girl so the woman could be with her mother. Richard helped the little girl draw a cat, something she had never done before. A year passed, then one evening he heard, “He’s here! He’s here!” It was the woman and her daughter coming to see him. “She hasn’t stopped talking about you in a year!” said the woman. The little girl crawled up on Richard’s lap and showed her all the animal drawings she had made for him. She also gave him a pin which Richard still wears on his jacket.

Later, Will Johnson, CEO of Chelsea Hospital at the time, decided to start an intergenerational program at the hospital for older adults and children. Will asked Richard to research programs that they could emulate.

In addition, Judy makes prayer shawls and blankets that she donates to the hospital chaplain. She estimates that she has made at least 100 shawls over the years.

Their children call them “professional volunteers” because of the many activities they have helped with over the years, including assisting in their kids’ classrooms, chaperoning band trips, and serving as lighthouse keepers in Traverse City and Ludington. They even volunteered at Chelsea Retirement Community with their church youth group. Richard’s mother, Jean Ashley later lived at Chelsea Retirement Community for 12 years and had excellent care, says Richard.

Today, Richard and Judy continue to volunteer at The Pines as after hours assistant managers. “When residents’ pull cords are pulled in the night, we check on them,” says Richard.

“The Pines is really great. We moved in 2017 and, again, we said ‘we’d try it,’” says Judy. “We enjoy that we can do what we want, be independent and travel, while knowing someone is around to keep an eye on our home.”

Enthusiastic train buffs, the Ashleys have been to all 48 contiguous states in the U.S. and have ridden on 90,000+ miles of Amtrak rails over the years. They would like to travel the remaining routes they haven’t seen yet.

A few years ago, Richard was, himself, a patient at Chelsea Hospital. “So many people stopped by to say hi to me,” he says. “The other person in my room asked me if I was the president!”

“It’s like a family,” says Judy. “We have helped take care of generations of people.”

Learn more about The Pines Senior Apartments in Chelsea, or any of our Brio Living Services communities and services, and see how you can live your best lives in retirement.